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[Post In Progress]
I heard an elk coming up the trail a few short minutes before I saw him. It was not as much noise as one might expect from such a large animal, just a muffled crack or two of hoof on stone, but it was more than enough to go on for my elk hunter’s ears.
The sound allowed my just enough time to reach for my bow, take some deep breaths, and try to still my beating heart as I setup for that moment that makes everything worth while. I had no doubt that something very consequential was about to happen. I am happy to report that the elk did his part and did not disappoint. All I had to do at that moment was to do mine.
Of course, if you are a bowhunter you may know that bowhunting is an acquired skill and an art, and it is never a sure thing no matter how hard we may try to convince ourselves otherwise. There is opportunity for something to go wrong on more levels that we care to dwell upon – and usually does. I try not to think about it, especially in times like this.
In this case I was more than prepared. I had hunted this area for a couple of years before, and I have come to know it as best I can. I’ve also changed my hunting style for this particular area, giving up the more popular spot and stalk tactics so common to the western hunter. I was never very good at it anyhow, though I have certainly tried.
So, it was back to the tree, for me.
Treestand hunting for elk is not one often talked about amongst most elk hunters I know. For the most part, elk simply move around much too much to pick an effective ambush point. Besides, most of us want to take advantage of those long western vistas, when those binoculars and expensive spotting scopes can really make the difference for success. And if you simply can’t sit still very long, there’s always possibilities over the next ridge in an endless supply of ridges. I’ve been over a few of those myself, and for the most part, I’m glad that I did.
But that was then, and this is now, and one must adapt to the terrain and conditions at hand. First we need some elk, and then we need a trail, and then we need a blind – or a tree. After that, we need to practice what seems to be a long forgotten and rarer skill, other wise known as patience. It seems to be in ever shorter supply in our we want it now world.
I satisfied the first two requirements after a fair amount of bootwork. Patience I got and have always had, so no worries there.
And then I found the tree….otherwise known as God’s Own Treestand. I think I found a home too.
[Post In Progress]
Although With That Being Said, I Occasionally Do Manage To Find One…
“After forty years of hunting for elk, there is a thing or two that I can say. One of them is that I am very, very good at almost finding elk. For wherever I am standing, the elk have been there first, maybe minutes, perhaps hours, or days before me.
Where they are right now is one of the great mysteries of the elk hunting world.
I hope that you are much better at finding elk than I…”.
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Folk Art, or Fine?…It’s All Fantastic To Me
Simply said, I absolutely love vintage sporting books, wildlife art, and all manners of hunting and fishing collectables…but decoys ride the shimmering waves high above them all. They make my heart sing, and the look of a good one almost always takes my breath away.
Why this is, exactly, I could never say for sure, or should I say – completely. The full battery of descriptive words elude me still.
Nor can I tell you why the mere sight of them always seems to cause that sudden catch in my throat, or fully activate the location of that special human gene that causes the quickening of the hunter’s heart.
What I can say is that New Jersey decoys are a special breed of bird, and that some of the best of the breed can be found at The Baymen’s Museum at The Tuckerton Seaport in Tuckerton, New Jersey.
Below are some photographs that I took at the museum in July 2016. Mere images cannot truly do them justice, for to enjoy the full effect you must take it all in for yourself.
I have done that myself, several times – but there has never been enough time to fully satisfy that mysterious part inside of me that always wants for more.
So don’t make my mistake. Set aside an hour or two…perhaps an afternoon, to wander the museum and contemplate these wonderful works of art. Steep yourself in the history and lore of the great bays, and learn just a bit of the lives of the carver’s that made it all possible.
There’s plenty of room. You may find me there too, close at hand, but far, far away…watching…searching…for those things that only a hunter sees.
For more Information and a photographic history of more than 700 New Jersey ducks, geese, and shorebirds, you may wish to purchase a copy of New Jersey Decoys by Henry A. Fleckenstein, Jr.In Hardcover edition, 270 pages, 1983.
Another great reference is Barnegat Bay Decoys and Gunning Clubs by Patricia H. Burke.Published by Ocean County Historical Society, Toms River, New Jersey in 1985. In softcover wraps; 44 pages.
We usually have copies of each in stock. Please email us at email@example.com for a price quote.
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October 3, 2015
The Colorado High Country will test the boundaries of heart and soul of any hunter, and the outer limits of rifle ballistics too. I hunted mountain goats there in September of 2015, and if their was ever a caliber made for such a task it is the .30-378 Weatherby Magnum.
Originally designed for the military in 1959 by Roy Weatherby, it was not available to the general public as a factory offering until 1996. I suspect that the majority of big game hunters have still never heard of it, even though it was used to set world records for accuracy at 1,000 yards and held that record for decades. It remains the fastest .30 caliber ammunition on the market.
I have a friend that is a big fan of this cartridge, and he is an old hand at long-range precision rifle shooting. He once took an elk at 750 yards, and when he heard that I had drawn a goat tag he all but insisted that I give it a try. He said that this was probably the closest it would ever get to a mountain goat, and he wanted a picture of the two together.
Now that’s a buddy and a pal that you can count on. There are not a lot of people in this world that would hand over a $2000 rifle with a finely engineered scope and a $150 box of shells and encourage you to go play in the rocks.
The thought of attempting a shot over several football fields stacked end to end is one that I would not generally consider very seriously, but then again I had never shot a rifle quite like this. After all, that’s exactly what this rifle was built for, and reason enough to own one.
I had my opportunities too. On this trip I had to pass on some really big billies, but not because they were at 500 yards or more. Shot placement is always important, but in goat hunting it is what happens after the shot that is of paramount importance.
Each time the goat was in a spot which would have made recovery impossible without ropes and climbing gear, and my head said no while my trigger finger desperately wanted to say yes. More than one trophy goat has stumbled and fallen a long, long way down the mountain after failing to be anchored by what appeared to be a great hit.
It took several days to find one in a reachable spot. As it turned out, there was no need to worry. I shot my Billy with a 130 grain handload at 350 yards, and their was never any question about the end result. It simply never knew what hit it, and was down and out on impact. The round got there in one hell of a hurry too.
The .30-378 Weatherby Magnum is truly a high performance hunting caliber. You may wish to take one along on your next mountain hunting adventure.
As it turns out, it does appear that I was able to take a very solid mountain goat for this unit. According to the Colorado Big Game Harvest Statistics for 2015, my goat was about 5 years old and had horns that were a bit better than average compared to other goats taken that year.
That’s some fine news, to be sure. Yet, I must tell you that in the end the length of the horns don’t really matter, at least to me. The real prize was the mountainous adventure of it all, and it’s a fantastic trophy no matter the score.
The Leupold Gold Ring 20-60x80mm Spotting Scope optics deliver a high magnification, incredibly bright, high resolution image across a wide field of view, all with best in class eye relief for easy, full field viewing with or without eyeglasses. The prism-less Folded Light Path (FLP) system uses mirrors to compress a long optical system into half its length. The magnesium housing make this high powered optic lightweight and extra rugged.Features:- Digital Camera Compatible- Xtended Twilight Lens System- DiamondCoat 2- Magnesium Housing- Front Focal Plane (FFF)- Tripod Ready- 100 percent Waterproof and Fog Proof- Folded Light PathSpecifications:- Actual Magnification: Low 20.00 x, High 60.00 x- Linear Field of View (foot/1000 yard): Low 121.00 foot, High 42.00 foot- Linear Field of View (meter/1000 meter): Low 37.00 meter, High 13.00 meter- Angular FOV (degrees): Low 2.30 degrees, High 0.80 degrees- Twilight Factor: Low 69.30, High 40.00- Exit Pupil (mm): Low 4.10 mm, High 1.30 mm- Eye Relief (mm): Low 30.00 mm, High 30.00 mm- Objective Clear Aperture (mm): N/A- Length (inch): 15.50 inch Length (mm): 394.00 mm- Weight (ounce): 61.80 ounce- Weight (gram): 1752.00 gram- Close Focus Distance: 25.00 foot- Close Focus Distance (meter): 7.60 meter
A seasoned and wise old billy of the mountain goat kind is many things, yet above all things, an extreme and elemental force defined by chilling winds, lightning, and mother nature in all her raw and naked glory. He can be found, if you dare, in that dizzying land of avalanche chutes, jumbled boulder fields, and rarefied air far above timberline. And find him you must, for he will not find you.
Add to this mix a man who longs to do just that, yet wonders if the body will still follow the wishes of the mind. Somehow the mountain slopes have become even steeper over the years, and the realities of the inevitable aging of flesh and bone are fast approaching like ominous, black-dark thunderheads over the peaks. This combination of animal and man may or may not be a match made in heaven. But it is a miraculous association none the less, built solidly upon a foundation of hope and lofty dreams.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I was successful in Colorado’s annual big game application lottery this year, and I don’t mind saying that I must have been a perplexing sight at the Post Office a few weeks ago. Only another big game hunter would recognize the shell-shocked posture, wide open mouth, and classic thousand yard stare of a person holding that coveted, newly printed tag.
Ten years are a long time to wait for a hunting permit, so I hope you will forgive me for not being able to think too clearly just yet. The receipt of what is most likely a once in a lifetime permission slip has a way of immediately reorganizing one’s pressing list of priorities.
You might say that the mere thought of this adventure gives me considerable pause, as well as a strange and vague uneasiness in the innards. After all, mountain goat hunting is not for the faint of heart under almost any circumstances. Stories of its practical difficulty and sheer physicality are legendary, and in fact, sometimes terrifying.
Just two years ago a goat hunter died not far from where I will be hunting, and I doubt that I will be able to discount that kind of fact. He had been successful too, but then fell from a cliff while packing out his goat.
My license is for Game Management Unit 12 in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness Area near Aspen, and it would be hard to find a more picturesque backdrop for a backcountry expedition. It may also be one of the more challenging units in the state due to limited access and other factors. In other words, it is brutally rugged and unapologetically unforgiving. The goats are a long, hard hike with a heavy pack from most almost any trailhead.
Legally, I may harvest a male or female goat, and it is a rifle tag. However, in Colorado the regulations allow me to hunt with a bow & arrow if I so choose, and I do. I was born a bowhunter, and a man must stay true to himself in matters such as this
Perhaps it is testing the fates to leave the rifle at home, since it is not easy to get the job done no matter what the weapon. I would also like to locate a mature billy and place myself within range of my recurve bow, a short-range instrument to say the least. But I’ve never had trouble creating boundary stretching goals for myself, and there’s nothing wrong with setting the sights on high.
It would be easy to become overwhelmed with all of the logistics involved. A great deal of contingencies must come together to be successful, which means of course that a lot of things can also go wrong. It would be fair to say that this hunt begins when you open that long-awaited envelope, and I suspect that I will never really feel fully prepared. And the fact is, even though I hunted them in Alaska forty years ago, I really don’t know all that much about goats.
Luckily, Douglas Chadwick does. A wildlife biologist, Chadwick spent many years studying this fascinating animal and famously called him “The Beast The Color of Winter”, in his book so aptly named. He was the first biologist to immerse himself in their everyday doings so completely, and to read his words about his life among the goats leaves one in awe and admiration of an animal that frolics so easily upon a place of such majesty and formidable beauty.
Every aspect of a mountain goat is improbable. At first glance their outward appearance can severely contrast with the splendor around them, for they do seem to be built from an odd and incongruent collection of body parts. They perform highly impossible, unbelievable feats in impassable terrain, clinging to tiny footholds on cliffs where even angels fear to tread.
Few people get to spend much time with them, if at all. If you do the encounters are more like the desperate escapades of a tethered astronaut who must return to base after a measured length of time, or face terminal consequences. To hunt them is a hard-won and precious gift.
Yet, Chadwick also refers to them as creatures of habit, perhaps to a fault. Throughout the year they move from winter and summer ranges as conditions dictate, returning to the same areas each season. In late summer and early fall they will often feed in the same sunlit meadow in the early morning, and then return along a well-worn path to bed for the day on the same protective ledge.
That’s a very exciting bit of news, since I am a creature of habit myself. I also have a large reservoir of patience, gathered over a lifetime of hunting experiences.
There’s some other things I know too. Concealment and ambush are the bowhunter’s stock in trade, and it is an extremely effective hunting strategy under the right circumstances. It is one of the few advantages in our little bag of tricks, and if you know anything at all about the severe limitations of archery equipment, you will know that we need and welcome any advantage that we can find. It’s not much, but it is…enough.
And so, the time is at hand. The exercise program and the preparations have begun.
“Let the games begin”, I cry, and I pray that the arrow flies swift and true. I plan to savor every breathless, lung-busting, leg-muscles-turned-to-jelly thrill of it all.
You can believe that I will be in that special place called mountain goat country this September; watching, high on a ridge where brilliant blue sky crashes hard against rock and snow. I shall sit with back to granite, eternally waiting for that great white beast to turn in my direction. Hanging there on the mountain, part of it, with a shining smile upon my face and a razor-sharp shaft on the string.
Wish for me to possess, if just for a moment, the fortitude and wilderness spirit of the goats themselves. Wish me the providence and predatory skills of all high country hunters everywhere, be they two-legged or four. I am no doubt going to need all the moral support I can muster, and perhaps a portable oxygen tank to go.
It is what mountain dreams and big adventures are all about, and it looks like I am on my way at last, god willing…
…An elk bugle echoes down and around us in the half-light of early morning, as the towering walls of Dark Canyon take over the skyline. The high, whistling notes are nearly overcome by the falls above, the waters now airborne, flying from the cliffs towards Anthracite Creek. We catch our breath as we climb up the Devil’s Staircase, towards the great unknowns of the Ruby Range and the perils of the Ragged Mountains…
No, this is not the scene of some campy, dramatic flick, as mysterious and foreboding as it may sound. But it was the backdrop, with some poetic license included, of a monumental event in the big game hunting world. It is here, in 1899, that John Plute of Crested Butte, Colorado looked down his rifle barrel and laid down one of the largest set of elk antlers ever recorded.
He has quite a history, this bull, and I can only imagine that his story only survives because of luck and some divine providence. It is said that Mr. Plute was a good hunter, and he often traded wild game for the goods that he needed. More than likely, he was usually not too concerned about the size of a bull’s headgear. Perhaps, in this case, he was.
He was also known to be a colorful character. An inveterate bachelor, a miner, and a mountain man, he traded the head to the local saloon keeper in payment of an overdue bar bill. It later passed to the stepson of the saloon owner, who dragged it out of storage and submitted the first unofficial measurement of its antlers in 1955.
The formalities took a little longer yet, until it was officially recognized by the Boone and Crockett Club as the new World’s Record Elk in 1961, The final score came in at a jaw-dropping 442 3/8 points.
Photographs simply don’t convey the magnificence of this specimen, and you can barely fit it within the view finder anyway. In person it is very nearly overwhelming, and it takes some time to evaluate its true size as the eye struggles to gain perspective.
The rack at its greatest spread tapes at over 51 inches, with 7 points on one side and 8 points on the other. One antler has a basal circumference of over 12 inches, and two points are more than 25 inches long. When first mounted many years after the kill, it was fitted with the biggest elk cape to be found. It was probably not quite big enough.
I have been fortunate to hunt some of the nation’s top trophy areas, and I have come across some big bulls in my time. A 325″ class bull is bigger than many elk hunters will ever encounter; a 350″ elk will really get your attention. I have yet to ground check a Boone and Crockett class elk, though it has not been for lack of trying.
Once, on a Colorado bowhunt, I very nearly harvested a bull that most certainly was approaching that magical 400 point plateau. The memory of that guy can still keep me up at night, and I doubt that I will ever forget the sense of awe he installed within me. I can hardly imagine another 40 or 50 inches of bone on top of his skull.
The Plute bull was the World Record for over 30 years, and many thought that it would never be beaten. The glory days of elk hunting appeared to be long gone, after all, …or were they?
In 1995, the elk hunting world shook once more when an antler buyer purchased a head that he had seen in the back of a pickup truck. Killed by an Arizona cattle rancher in 1968 and never measured, it was eventually determined to be bigger than the bull of Crested Butte. Even then, it only beat out the existing world record by less than 1/2″ of total score.
Obviously, Mr. Plute never knew just how big his elk really was. It does not sound that it would have mattered much to him anyway, though I probably should not speak as if I know. Very little has been passed down about his everyday doings, or his end. Some have said that he died while breaking a spirited horse; others have said that no one really knows. Perhaps the truth of his ultimate fate is lost upon the winds and snow fields of the wild lands that he roamed, like many men of his era. In my way of thinking that only adds another layer to the legend, and to the mysterious nature of a place that once held a bull such as this.
It is impossible to know the full extent of this elk’s legacy. No doubt his genetics still warms the blood of his countless descendants, banked for the day when they can fully express their immeasurable potential. Who knows how many elk like him, have lived, and died, without being seen?
The head now hangs at The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce, which might seem an ignominious end to such an important animal. Perhaps it may not be the best place to honor him, but I do not get to make that kind of choice. For most, he is a curiosity and a fine tourist attraction, though I doubt that the uninitiated can grasp its true significance. For my part I am grateful for the opportunity to admire him in any way that I can.
The Dark Canyon of Anthracite Creek has yet to hit my eyes for real, but it will. I am drawn to it, curious too, and my hunter’s eye wants to see what it will see. Hunt there, I will, just to say that I did. I hope that John Plute would approve.
Most of all, I would like to think that a giant elk like him still roams those mountains. In my dreams I see him there, hanging back in the dark timber just out of reach of mortal men, suspended on the edge of time and the longing of hunter’s soul.
If you would like to read more about trophy elk and mule deer, we suggest that you acquire a copy of Colorado’s Biggest Bucks and Bulls, by Jack and Susan Reneau. We generally have a copy or two in stock. Feel free to Email for price quote and other details.
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READY OR NOT
The young whitetail buck bounds proudly into the field of newly planted winter wheat and stops, and I know that I must remember to take a breath. Just moments before it had magically appeared from the heavy shadows at field’s edge. I saw first its jet black nose, then it’s eyes, followed by searching ears, and horns.
For some mysterious reason I had been staring intently at this very spot amidst the tangle of heavy vines, the bright green leaves of sassafras trees, and the yellow of remnant persimmon fruit hung on bare branches. It is as if I already knew, somehow, that I would see a deer this morning, and was simply waiting for its arrival. It’s a huge moment when you are thirteen. Why it’s as big as the world.
Just before daylight I had wedged myself into the crotch of an old, dead tree on the more open side of a small, protected field. It was more than cold with a biting, mid November wind, but the tree was big, protecting, with thick, comforting limbs radiating from its base. It was like a fort, and it was great fun just to sit there, hidden, listening.
Morning in the eastern deer woods has a rhythm and cadence all its own. Once heard, it remains indelibly recorded on the heartbeat of your mind I can still hear the stirrings of squirrels and small creatures in the dry leaves and forest duff below, the twittering birds, the scornful proclamations of Blue Jays and wandering crows above. I miss it so.
I remember feeling that the buck knew I was there, would be there…watching. Perhaps he had seen a small, slow movement from me, or perhaps he just, …knew. Will he come? Even If he suspects nothing there is little reason for him to continue across an open field on a bright, sunny morning during gun season, with plenty of heavy cover in the trees of the wood lot behind and around him.
I wait. The buck hesitates for a brief time, an eternity, and then trots calmly and purposely along the edge of the trees towards me. I am paralyzed. Though mostly ready, I’ve not yet had time to assess the situation or remember my role in it. My feet are only about six feet from the ground, and I know that he will see me and swap ends quickly if I move too fast. Still, I feel that he knows I’m there and can not change his course, and can somehow see himself moving, thru my eyes, as he crosses in front of my stand.
It’s now or never, and in one motion I come from behind his track and start to swing my shotgun bead towards his shoulder. He stops as if on command, as if this is his part in the choreography of a primordial dance, and this is the selected spot to place his feet. His body is perfectly broadside, with his head turned towards me and up, his nose shining in the sky.
There is no sound, no mind, no time, just our breath frozen in the air as I settle behind the gun. He waits patiently, gracefully, and completely at peace with what is about to come his way. Both parties share something all-knowing yet incomprehensible, without judgement. It is agreed. We have done this before and may do so again, god willing.
I don’t remember pulling the trigger, yet It ends as it must if you are a hunter. A life taken. I am too young to comprehend the full meaning of the act, yet somehow I know there is something more. It is an end, perhaps a beginning, I do not know. The circle complete, we are bonded. It is a gift of the deer and it is sacred.
I pray I will not forget, both then, and now.
“No Sound. No Mind. No Time…A Hunter’s Mind” – Michael Patrick McCarty
*Few moments in my hunting life have held more importance, my first whitetail buck – a sleek 6 pointer. It was 1971, and I was Thirteen. A hunter, I am.
Master bowhunter Rocky Tschappat with another beautiful bull in a long line of Colorado public land, elk hunting trophies.
The “Bull Of The Woods” has stumbled and fallen, but maybe, just maybe, there is another out there just like him, waiting for us.
You do make it look easy, even though we all know, it is not…
“Few indeed seem fitted for archery or care for it. But that rare soul who finds in it’s appeal something that satisfies his desire for fair play, historic sentiment, and the call of the open world, will be happy” – Saxton Pope, Hunting With The Bow and Arrow, 1923
“Fresh king size elk burger for a starving elk hunter” – Rocky Tschappat.
And might I add, that’s gonna be a lot of burger…
For an elk hunter’s taste treat sensation, try:
Venison (Elk) Patties Oregon
It is a particularly good recipe for that big old bull that passed the tender stage some years ago.
2 pounds of venison (or elk)
1/2 pound of salt pork
1/8 pound of butter
2 cups of finely chopped scallions
3 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 Dash of Tabasco Sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard
Put venison and salt pork through a meat grinder twice. Blend thoroughly and add salt and pepper. Shape into patties 1/2 inch thick and 4 inches in diameter and place on waxed paper. In a skillet melt butter, add scallions, horseradish, Tabasco Sauce, dry mustard, and Worcestershire. Blend ingredients, and cook until onions are tender. Spread this mixture over every other meat patty, then cover with adjoining patty and press together. Place the pressed patties on a shallow roasting pan and slide under a preheated broiler. Broil for about six minutes on each side and serve on toasted buttered rolls.
* This recipe is taken from Game Cookery In America and Europe by Raymond R. Camp. It is my go-to wild game cookbook, and I highly recommend it for hunter’s and fishermen everywhere.
We generally have a copy for sale in our bookstore stock, if so interested.
Pronghorn can provide an almost endless parade of entertainment for the perpetual watcher of wildlife, and I am always a most captive audience.
The most common sighting of an antelope for most people is that of an animal running away at an almost unbelievable speed, or perhaps just a view of their ears and head as they watch you from a long, long distance, before turning to leave.
Setting up in a blind near a water hole is a sure way to gain some close encounters of an animal not so easily observed. With luck you’ve already put in some blind time yourself, and if not, I hope that you will get to do so soon. You will not be disappointed.
With that in mind, here are just a few images from my August bowhunting adventure in Northern Colorado.
And yes, I did get my buck…but that, is another story!
A fine pair of Mule Deer bookends, taken near my ground blind while on a bowhunt for Pronghorn Antelope in Northern Colorado.
“From that day on I have been a lover of mule deer…They were my first love and still remain my strongest…Somehow he sight of an old mule deer buck, head high, antlers lying along his broad back, returns me definitely to my childhood and the day I first felt the mystery of wild game and wild country”.
Jack O’Connor, Game in the Desert, Revisited, 1977